Privacy Group: Google Conducts Warrantless Searches for the Government

In this photo illustration the Google logo is reflected in the eye of a girl on February 3
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Google may be helping the government conduct warrantless searches into your online behavior, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

According to an amicus brief filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Google is scanning billions of user files in search for illegal content. The brief, which was was highlighted in a report by Tom’s Hardware this week, alleges that Google searches user files and then sends information to various law enforcement agencies.

The brief claims that Google has developed a proprietary algorithm to investigate files uploaded by their users. The algorithm, which has not been made available for public inspection, then automatically sends information on offending users to law enforcement agencies.

This case concerns Google’s use of a proprietary algorithm to routinely scan the personal files of billions of Internet users for content that the company deems unlawful to possess. If the secret matching criteria that Google has developed are triggered, Google sends personal information about the user who uploaded the file to a law enforcement agency for criminal investigation. Google and the Government have both downplayed the risk of false positives as well as the subjective determinations that provide the basis for finding that certain content is unlawful to posses. They have not made the algorithm available for inspection or established that it can reliably identify files as containing contraband. Moreover, image matching techniques, at issue in this case, do not operate the same way as file hash functions, which do in fact confirm that two files are identical.

Google is one of a few Silicon Valley companies that has agreed to work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). As part of the partnership, Google will scan user files against NCMEC’s database. EPIC is concerned that flaws in the algorithm will result in criminal investigations into innocent Americans.

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